I have at various points in my life played instruments. My family comes from a somewhat musical background, but mostly we are music lovers and enjoyers rather than practitioners and performers.
Since confessing to taking pleasure in hearing a good tune, and especially to trying to play one comes with its own type of baggage, I will preface this post by saying I was a bit of a wild child and didn’t want to play my first instrument for many years. My parents dragged me into it by force. (I eventually did learn to appreciate it, though–and I’m still learning to understand it.) So you could say, since I wasn’t the stereotypical prodigy, or even very good, that my perspective is a bit different, if albeit not uncommon. I hope through this post you gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like to be a music student beyond the surface-level descriptions, and maybe if you were a band kid, you’ll relate. (I know, how American of me. I wish I could say I played the accordion in traditional South American music classes on the weekends as a kid, but I wasn’t as interesting as that.)
To me, being a music student encompasses more than just practicing, taking good care of an instrument, or learning your scales and arpeggios. It’s about a lot of things, but one I’d like to consider today is that of “awe,” a notion that facilitators and advocates of giftedness in children and adults in my home country use as a benchmark for some forms of higher levels of cognitive ability in our youngest ones. But it can be applied to any child/adult, and is applicable in the discussion of music due to how it is defined.
All the reading I’ve done on the topic (and, subsequently, the sites it was stored on) seems to have disappeared down an Internet hole, so I can’t cite anything that would add credibility to this article. But looking up the dictionary definition of “awe” in your favorite search engine, with Siri, or in an old-fashioned paper copy should suffice.
“Awe” keeps us human, in short. We experience it when we can’t understand something natural, artistic, etc. and yet we are astounded by it and want to learn more, quantify it. We might experience awe when we see a master tennis player win Wimbledon. Or, and perhaps even more curiously and primally, we experience awe by marveling at another human’s humanity, disassociating their physical appearance from their personality and looking only at the obstacles they’ve overcome and the beauty of their thoughts and wishes.
Awe makes us realize we are so little, even though we find ourselves to be so large. Some people by nature experience it more than others, but with cultivation, it can become habit.
Part of becoming a music student is all the mundane practice and routine. It teaches discipline and attempts to foster hard work in those that may otherwise not work hard. This is because the rewards are immense. I should know, not being a musician of natural inclination myself. When you finally play a piece as close to perfect as your inborn abilities will allow, your heart sings. You may not want to admit it, but that’s what it was all for. This is the beginning of awe.
If you work with a group or band, the desire to succeed, grow, and be challenged snowballs. Obviously, around the world there are examples of groups who have worked hard and faced tragedy after trial and over again, but equally there are groups who start from the same place and manage to avoid imploding. When you work in concert (quite literally) with your groupmates, there’s nothing better in the world than knowing you achieved, even if you started the night nervous… and even if you messed up. And the awe you experience at the end of the set or as the orchestra breathes its last sigh will remain further planted in your marrow.
All that remains is to nurture it. But that I leave up to the neophyte know-it-alls. I can’t insult them entirely, though. I was once in their place, and much like the language learner I am now proud to call myself, I am somewhat of an awkward false beginner in some ways (in some ways not), though a beginner nonetheless–fighting to catch up to and remedy all that I lack.
But awe doesn’t just come in the form of togetherness, which is incredibly important; don’t get me wrong. The feeling can come from seeing the inherent connectedness of math, nature, and music, for example. Or pondering the profound ways humanity shapes and is shaped by sound.
There are so many ways to analyze and feel music. Even though I couldn’t keep a beat worth a penny, I gradually over many years became closer to the art.
And I think it was all due to having an open mind and a determination to prevail.
Featured image by Karim MANJRA.